Twenty-four-year-old Omaha songster Conor Oberst seems to never lay down his guitar. Since his debut at the unadulterated age of 13, he’s been self-proprietarily quivering his way up the indie-rock charts, providing fans with over 15 bodies of work. His last full-length album, Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002), dubbed him as “rock’s boy genius” and solidified a position as one of the guiding poetic voices of our generation. Shortly after Lifted, he re-released his first five albums with five bonus tracks in a seven-LP box set and collaborated with a fellow Nebraska heavy-hearted group Neva Dinova on a six-track EP. There hasn’t been more than a year to confide without the vocal temper tantrums of Mr. Oberst and his ever-growing traveling musical army.
Now in 2005, keeping it real on Saddle Creek records, Conor has gone into overdrive with the double release of two new full-length albums, Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, and I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. The former, more experimentally studio produced, contrasts the traditional alt-country twang of the latter for a dynamic saturation of new material.
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, purely continues the Bright Eyes stylistic, vindicated, suffering lyrics and Midwest folksy melodies of the past. As if distilled, the record reveals a tamed version of that quaky angst, producing intensely tight and focused melodic fits. Harmonies are light-hearted and uplifting on the tails of fresh quizzical poems as one of the album’s most intimate country ballads reminisces, “I’m a single cell on a serpent’s tongue, there is a muddy field where a garden was, and I’m glad you got away, but I’m still stuck out here, my clothes are soaking wet from your brother’s tears.” He seems to be in his finest element on this record. And with guest appearances from Jim James of My Morning Jacket and the country sweetheart Emmylou Harris, the album glows with talent.
From the opening track Oberst sits us down, orating a one-on-one narration of two characters casually talking to each other in the midst of a crashing plane. Setting up a storybook presence, the rest of the album grasps your ears with an infectious verse. Even if the acoustics don’t please your soul, the poetry will draw you right back in, proving its durability. Bright Eyes aficionados will emphatically embrace the album, but even if you’re not attuned to Oberst’s delicate instability you’ll find satisfaction in his hushed, yet wild sincerity.